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Peter A. Stratton is a Senior VP and Director of SWA’s Accessibility Compliance and Consulting Group. He directs accessibility services provided to private and public clients nationwide throughout all phases of design through construction close out; litigation consulting for attorneys; and training for the industry at large. He is an adjunct instructor at New York University and the Pratt Institute, New York, NY.

Posts by Peter Stratton

Tech Notes: Sliding Doors at Dwelling Units

Private outdoor space is a desirable amenity for apartment dwellers, especially as COVID-19 restrictions have led to more time spent at home. Balconies and terraces accessed directly from multifamily residential dwelling units are increasingly popular with many of our clients, a trend we expect to see continue in the coming years. For designers looking to incorporate this feature, it is important to note that secondary exterior doors from dwelling units have specific accessibility considerations.

One of the most common problem areas that our accessibility consultants see in multifamily housing units are noncompliant secondary exterior sliding doors. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), as well as most building codes, strictly regulate these doors, from clear width and thresholds to door hardware at certain unit types. Our consultants highly recommend that swing doors are used in lieu of sliding doors at secondary exterior locations; however, if a sliding door is preferred, it is vital to consider the following requirements, among others:

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Trends in Healthcare: Charging Stations

Trends in Healthcare” is a recurring series that focuses on exciting new designs and technologies we’re seeing in healthcare projects and provides best practices on how to ensure that these latest trends are accessible to persons with disabilities. We build on the wealth of knowledge we gain from working with healthcare design teams, construction crews, and practitioners to provide practical solutions for achieving accessible healthcare environments.


Anyone who has ever had to take a trip to the hospital knows how much time is often spent in the waiting room. As a result, our experience in that space can shape our perception of the entire visit. In fact, studies have shown that a visitor’s impression of the waiting room itself contributes significantly to the likelihood of a return visit.[1]  The length of wait times can vary – from a relatively short wait for a screening, to an average of 40 minutes in emergency departments, to the better part of a day if you are waiting for a family member to receive treatment.[2] As healthcare providers strive to remove pain points within the patient experience, they are turning to a number of design strategies to help create a more pleasant waiting room experience. One of these strategies is to ensure that patients and visitors have access to electrical outlets.

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Tech Notes: Automatic Doors

image of "Caution Automatic Door" signAs the country continues to confront the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we navigate spaces is changing. One of these changes is the way we interact with common use objects that traditionally require hand-operation, like doors. While automatic doors have always been a good option for providing greater access to people with disabilities, hygiene concerns associated with the spread of disease have presented another argument for their use. The rise of touchless technology as a result of this pandemic will increase the use of automatic doors not just for accessibility or convenience, but for public health as well. For anyone considering incorporating automatic doors into their designs, either for new construction or as a retrofit, here are some important things to consider:

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Fair Housing – What’s Your Safe Harbor?

Compliance with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal civil rights law, has significantly improved since the early 1990s when the regulations were promulgated. Unfortunately, a quick search of recent news articles will reveal that noncompliance with basic FHA requirements continues to be a problem in newly constructed multifamily projects nationwide. Owners, developers, architects, and others are still cited for noncompliance with the FHA’s seven design and construction requirements despite the fact that it has been approximately 30 years since those requirements went into effect.

Based on our experience, one of the contributing factors in continued noncompliance is the common misconception that following the accessibility requirements of a building code will result in compliance with the FHA. It is important to note that if the accessibility requirements of one of the ten HUD-approved safe harbors are not incorporated into the design of a multifamily development, and the project complies only with the accessibility requirements of a building code, then the risk of noncompliance exists.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, many building codes fell far short of FHA compliance. For example, many developers in New York City relied on compliance with NYC’s Local Law 58 of 1987, believing that they would also be compliant with the Fair Housing Act. Unfortunately, this resulted in widespread noncompliance. LL58 permitted step up terraces and small bathroom layouts with inswinging doors, among other design elements that did not satisfy FHA compliance. The problem has certainly become less pervasive in more recent years as the ICC and local jurisdictions have become aware of shortcomings in their code requirements, but there are still some FHA criteria that have fallen through the cracks in even the most up-to-date building codes. (more…)

Tech Notes: Door Surface

The 2010 ADA Standards and the A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities require the bottom 10 inches on the push side of a door to be smooth and free from any obstructions for the full width of the door. While there are some exceptions (e.g., sliding doors or tempered glass doors without stiles), this requirement applies at the following locations:

  • 2010 ADA Standards:
    • Public and Common Use Areas: All doors along the accessible route
    • Accessible Dwelling Units: The primary entry door and all doors within the unit intended for user passage
  • A117.1 Standard:
    • Public and Common Use Areas: All doors along the accessible route
    • Type B Dwelling Units: The primary entry door
    • Type A and Accessible Dwelling Units: The primary entry door and all doors within the unit intended for user passage

The door surface provision is intended to ensure the safety of people with disabilities who require the use of a wheelchair, walker, cane, or other mobility aid. It is common to utilize the toe of the wheelchair or leading edge of another mobility device to push open a door while moving through it. The smooth surface allows the footrest of a wheelchair or other mobility device that comes into contact with the door to slide across the door easily without catching.

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Five Misconceptions about Fair Housing Act Design and Construction Compliance

From “If I comply with the building code, then I comply with the Fair Housing Act” to “Everything is adaptable, so it doesn’t need to work day one, right?” – our accessibility consultants have heard it all. Here are five of the most common misconceptions about the Fair Housing Act that we come across on a regular basis…

1.  Following the accessibility requirements of the building code will satisfy the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Not true. Following the accessibility requirements of the building code may not always satisfy the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Building codes and federal laws are mutually exclusive; a building department or building official is responsible for ensuring compliance with the code – not the law. And, HUD is responsible for enforcement of the Fair Housing Act – not building codes. Meeting the requirements of one may not always satisfy the requirements of the other. There is only one code, i.e., the International Building Code (2000, 2003, and 2006 editions, with a few caveats) that are HUD-approved ‘safe harbors’ for compliance with the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Later editions of the code are not approved by HUD as meeting the requirements of the FHA. And, any edition of the International Building Code adopted by a local jurisdiction and edited to fit the context of the local jurisdiction is not a safe harbor for compliance. The general rule of thumb is to apply the accessible design and construction requirements of the code and the law and comply with the most stringent provision.

2.  Meeting the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act is not required at the time of design and construction. Because the Fair Housing Act permits adaptability, modifying a feature to accommodate a resident’s particular need is the best way to comply with the Fair Housing Act.

Not true. Meeting the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act at the time of design and construction is required. To say that its permissible to meet the requirements by adapting features as needed and only upon request makes the design and construction requirements of the Act meaningless. Adaptability is permitted by the law, but only after the minimum design and construction requirements are met. And, what is permitted to be adapted post construction is included in the technical standards. For example, a forward or parallel approach is required to be provided at a kitchen sink in a dwelling unit. In order to accommodate the front approach, the base cabinet must be designed to be removable, i.e., adaptable. Adaptability in this case is contemplated by the requirements for usable kitchens. On the other hand, a light switch is required by the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines to be installed below 48 inches above the finished floor. The Act does not permit the light switch to be installed higher and modified as requested. To install a light switch higher than 48 inches above the finish floor is in violation of the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines. Adaptability in this case is not contemplated or permitted by the requirements for usable kitchens.

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Top 10 Accessible Design Oversights: Hotels

Our Accessibility Team works on a wide variety of project types across the country, and each comes with its own unique set of challenges. It is common for even our most experienced accessibility consultants to encounter a design problem we have never seen before. However, there are also recurring issues that we see crop up again and again and again; common accessible design oversights that are not difficult to avoid if accounted for early enough in the design process.

In this post, we dive into the top ten accessible design oversights that our consultants find in…Hotels.

1. Dispersion of Accessible Guest Rooms

Guest rooms required by the ADA to include mobility features must be dispersed among the various classes of guest rooms provided. Accessible rooms need to provide guests with the same range of choice afforded to guests without a disability. Often, designers select one or two room types to meet the minimum number of accessible guest rooms required by the ADA (e.g., a King room and a Double Queen room) while failing to account for other room types and amenities. For example, if a hotel provides multi-room suites, king rooms, double rooms, rooms with couches or seating areas, rooms with kitchenettes, etc., then the number of required accessible rooms must be distributed among each of those room classes. Other factors to consider when dispersing accessible rooms include view, floor level, price, bathroom fixtures like hot tubs, or other amenities provided to guests. Only when a hotel contains more room classes than the number of accessible guest rooms required are you permitted to have rooms classes without an accessible equivalent. In this case, you still must disperse the accessible guest rooms in the priority of guest room type, number of beds, and then amenities.

2. Required Rooms without Roll-in Showers

When designing bathrooms for accessible guest rooms, many designers overlook the fact that there are a specific number of rooms required to provide roll-in showers, and a specific number that cannot include roll-in showers (i.e., the accessible bathing fixture must be a bathtub or transfer shower). We frequently review plans where all accessible guest rooms are designed with roll-in showers. Older codes and standards focused on ensuring that a minimum number of roll-in showers were provided, but they did not limit that number. As a result, hotels could be designed with all accessible guest rooms containing roll in showers; however, that is no longer the case under the current requirements. Despite common misconceptions, a roll-in shower is not necessarily the best bathing option for all guests. The variety of bathing fixtures required by the 2010 ADA Standards accommodates the needs of people with a range of disabilities.

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Tech Notes: Accessible Parking in Precast Garages

When designing accessible parking spaces, it is important to remember that the slope of the ground surface for the entire parking space and adjacent access aisle must not exceed 2% in any direction. We frequently see noncompliant slopes at accessible spaces, especially when the ground surface is asphalt or permeable pavers.  The slope along the perimeter of spaces at curbs or gutters is frequently more than 2% at up to 5%, which requires careful detailing and planning on the part of the architect, civil engineer, and on site contractors to ensure that a compliant slope is achieved at the accessible parking spaces. At parking structures and precast garage systems, we have found that important details and coordination needed to achieve compliant ground surface slopes are often overlooked.

 

Ground surface slopes at walls or parapets often exceed 2%, (blue highlight) resulting in noncompliant slopes at the heads of accessible parking spaces.

In parking structures, it is common for an area along the perimeter of the slab (adjacent to walls or parapets) to slope in excess of 2% for drainage purposes. In some cases, this slope is embedded into the precast system. As a result, accessible parking spaces must be located away from the sloped edges during the initial design phase.

In other cases, noncompliance results from the application of a cast in place (CIP) wash applied to the top of the precast slab. In the detail shown below, note the slope condition at the CIP topping. The wash is often indicated only in section details on the precast drawing set, making it easy to miss if designers are not specifically looking for how these details affect accessible parking spaces. The entire project team involved in the design and/or construction of the garage must be made aware of where accessible parking spaces are located and understand the specific slope requirements to ensure that details are properly coordinated.

The cast in place topping results in a slope of more than 2% at 8.33% at the head of the accessible parking space in this precast garage.

 

Once the garage is constructed, it is nearly impossible and very costly to fix noncompliant slopes at the head of accessible parking spaces. In some garages, we have been able to solve the problem by shifting the striping at accessible parking spaces. This results in the steeply sloped ground surface being located fully outside of the parking space and access aisle. The problem is that this solution is dependent upon whether the spaces can be shifted without compromising the minimum required width of the drive aisle or obstructing access to other parking spaces.

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Environments for Aging: Designing Better Senior Housing

The 2019 Environments for Aging Conference took place last month in Salt Lake City, UT.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Environments for Aging conference in Salt Lake City. Hundreds of professionals involved in the complex world of senior living gathered to learn from each other and to explore products and services that are designed for the senior population. It was not surprising to see the level of interest in the event; according to the US Census Bureau, 20 percent of the current US population will be 65 or older by 2029. The Baby Boomer generation, which accounts for the majority of that 20 percent, is moving into their 70s and are beginning to consider how and where they want to age. Some Boomers prefer to remain in their current homes in the communities that they helped build. Others want to move into smaller homes or prefer to transition to senior living communities. Many of these senior living communities are popping up both in suburbia and active urban centers in response to the current trend in senior housing preferences.

There are many senior housing typologies: among the most common are independent living, assisted living, and dementia care. Each type of living arrangement has specific needs that must be addressed from a design perspective.

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Trends in Healthcare: Nurse Call Devices

“Trends in Healthcare” is a recurring series that focuses on exciting new designs and technologies we’re seeing in healthcare projects and provides best practices on how to ensure that these latest trends are accessible to persons with disabilities. We build on the wealth of knowledge we gain from working with healthcare design teams, construction crews, and practitioners to provide practical solutions for achieving accessible healthcare environments.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls account for 3 million injuries treated in emergency rooms, 800,000 hospitalizations, and 28,000 deaths each year in the U.S. One in five falls cause serious injuries such as concussions/traumatic brain injuries and hip fractures. Not only is this a public health concern, it is extremely costly. According to the CDC, medical costs directly related to injuries resulting from falls totaled more than $50 billion in 2015.[1] Within hospitals and long-term care facilities, effective implementation of interventions and design strategies to reduce patient falls are key to increased patient safety and decreased medical costs. However, it may not be possible to eliminate patient falls altogether, so features like a properly installed nurse call system can be life changing.[2]

Accessible Nurse Call Stations

Most state and local standards and regulations require nurse call devices in each public toilet room and within inpatient bath, toilet, and shower rooms.[3,4] Where provided in spaces required to be accessible, the nurse call device must also be accessible. An accessible nurse call device is one that meets the following requirements:

  • All operable parts, including call reset switches, are within accessible reach range (15-48″ AFF);
    • NOTE: Determining compliant mounting height requires coordinating with the location of operable parts on the specific model used.
  • Operable parts do not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate; and
  • Operable parts can be activated with no more than 5 pounds of force.

The location of operable parts differs between models of nurse call devices. It is important to determine mounting location based on the specific model of device being used.
Models shown (clockwise, L to R): Intercall Emergency Stations; Becas BeSmart Nurse Call System; Cornell Visual Nurse Call System

While these criteria appear straightforward, proper placement of nurse calls can become complicated when coordinated with minimum grab bar clearances and additional requirements under FGI, NFPA 99, NFPA 70, Ul 1069, UL 2560, and other local codes.

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SWA’s Accessibility Services – Leading the Industry Forward

Being visionary is one of the things we do best here at SWA, and we strive to lead the industry forward by sharing our expertise. Recently, Peter Stratton, Senior VP and Managing Director, Accessibility Services and Mark Jackson, Accessibility Consulting Director did just that by presenting on accessibility related topics in Washington, DC and in New York City.

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Tech Notes: Meeting the Accessibility Criteria for Horizontal Exit Doors

Getting out of a building during a smoke or fire event can be traumatic for anyone. But, just imagine how traumatic it can be for a person who uses an assistive device, such as a wheelchair? If proper maneuvering clearance is not provided at doorways, then a person can become trapped.

Building code requirements for accessible means of egress have been developed to ensure that people with disabilities can exit buildings safely in the event of a fire. These requirements, found in chapter 10 of the International Building Code (IBC), establish proper maneuvering clearances at certain doors to safeguard against the potential for entrapment. Horizontal exit doors are an example of such doors.

Horizontal Exit Doors

horizontal exitWe’ve all seen them; in a hospital corridor, at the school cafeteria, or near the elevator lobby in a high-rise apartment building. They are doors that are held open most commonly by magnetic locks, which are connected to the building’s fire alarm system. When the building’s fire alarm is triggered, the magnetic hold-open device releases, and the doors close to contain smoke and flames.

 

The 2015 IBC defines a horizontal exit as:

“An exit component consisting of fire-resistance-rated construction and opening protectives intended to compartmentalize portions of a building thereby creating refuge areas that afford safety from the fire and smoke from the area of fire origin.”

 

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Trends in Healthcare: Patient Check-in Kiosks

“Trends in Healthcare” is a recurring series that focuses on exciting new designs and technologies we’re seeing in healthcare projects and provides best practices on how to ensure that these latest trends are accessible to persons with disabilities. We build on the wealth of knowledge we gain from working with healthcare design teams, construction crews, and practitioners to provide practical solutions for achieving accessible healthcare environments.

And now for our first installment…Patient Check-in Kiosks!


Check-in kiosks are becoming prevalent in state-of-the-art healthcare facilities. Where provided, at least one of each type of kiosk must be accessible.

Imagine that you are walking into the waiting room of your doctor’s office for your annual checkup. The waiting room is overflowing with people and the receptionists are answering phone calls, entering information into the computer, and taking care of the long line of patients ahead of you. That’s when, out of the corner of your eye, you see several touch screens located on a nearby counter. You’ve grown accustomed to self check-in kiosks at airports and theaters, but not at your doctor’s office. Eager to skip the long line, you make your way toward the digital devices. Hooray! Patient check-in kiosks have arrived!

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Designing for All: What the Cooper Hewitt’s Access+Ability Exhibition can teach us about Accessible Design

SWA’s Accessibility Consulting Team at the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s Access+Ability Exhibition

SWA’s Accessibility Consulting Team recently had the opportunity to tour the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s Access+Ability exhibition, where the theme of inclusive and accessible design is displayed and celebrated. The exhibit narrates a history of design with disabilities in mind, focusing on the “surge of design with and by people with a wide range of physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities.” As we moved through the exhibit, I found it fascinating to see how products or designs that were initially intended to address a need brought on by a disability (like email or text messaging) have now been adapted into everyday modern conveniences. It’s interesting to bring this idea back to our work as accessibility consultants – often, if designers are willing to incorporate inclusive or universal design principles, it is possible for accessible features to blend seamlessly into the overall design intent, providing an environment that can be easily and equally used by everyone, with or without a disability.

Here are some thoughts on the exhibition from other members of our Accessibility Consulting Team…

 

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Sustainable Spaces for Seniors

Panelists and organizers at the “Sustainable Spaces for Seniors: Design for Aging and the Environment” event at Hafele’s NYC Showroom

On May 1st, 2018, Steven Winter, founder and chairman of Steven Winter Associates (SWA), and Harold Bravo, Accessibility Consulting Director at SWA, moderated an event at the Hafele Showroom to discuss senior housing in New York City and its relation to accessible and sustainable design. The event was organized jointly by the AIANY Design for Aging Committee (DFA) and the AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE).

A panel of experts presented perspectives from architecture, real estate development, and municipal government, and discussed the challenges of designing sustainable, comfortable, accessible, and healthy buildings for the aging population in New York City. The panel included Kleo J. King (Deputy and General Counsel, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities), Isaac Henderson (Development Director, L+M Development Partners), Jack Esterson (Design Partner, Think! Architecture+Design), and Rich Rosen, AIA, LEED AP (Principal, Perkins Eastman).

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Tech Notes: Accessible Design Solutions for Protruding Objects

Limits of Protruding Objects
[US Access Board]

When most people think about accessible design, the first thing that comes to mind is designing for people in wheelchairs. However, there’s a lot more to it than that. Requirements in federal, state, and local accessibility laws and codes account for a wide range of disabilities, including vision impairments. One of the most important design considerations for people with vision impairments is eliminating projections into the circulation path. Objects projecting from walls or other fixed elements can pose a hazard if they do not meet certain requirements. Any object that extends more than 4 inches into the circulation path between 27 and 80 inches above the finished floor is considered a protruding object and must be protected by a fixed cane detectable barrier installed below the object.

There are many ways to provide adequate protection at protruding objects and our accessibility consultants are always keeping an eye out for accessible design solutions that look like they were an intentional part of the design, rather than an afterthought. Here are just a few of the more successful and aesthetically pleasing examples of cane detectable barriers that we have come across…

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Access+Ability: An Evening at the Cooper Hewitt Museum

Students used props to simulate sensory and mobility disabilities.

As part of Cooper Hewitt Lab | Access Design Teen Program and the museum’s ongoing ‘Access+Ability’ exhibition (on view through September 3, 2018), the Design for Aging Committee of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), New York Chapter, was invited to facilitate a workshop with high school students to explore challenges experienced by seniors and people with disabilities. As an Accessibility Consultant here at Steven Winter Associates, Inc. and a member of the committee, I had the opportunity to attend the event.

Students at the hands-on workshop were challenged to develop design solutions to address the needs of a hypothetical group of older adults attending a lecture on the 3rd floor of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Included among the hypothetical attendees were people with visual, hearing, and motor disabilities and those with limited knowledge of the English language.

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Tech Notes: Accessible Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

Electric vehicle charging stations must provide a basic level of accessibility, including controls within reach and user access.

Over the past several years, as the desire for more sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation has increased significantly, we have been seeing a corresponding increase in the number of electric vehicle charging stations provided in parking lots and garages. Applicable federal, state, and local accessibility laws and building codes may not specifically address how to make these charging stations accessible, but that does not mean they are exempt from compliance. Under most regulations, where electric charging stations are provided, at least one must be accessible.

But what does an accessible charging station look like?

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Innovations in Accessible Products

Our accessibility consultants are constantly on the lookout for improvements in product design that will make it easier for our clients to comply with accessibility criteria. As manufacturers become more familiar with accessibility requirements under applicable federal, state, and local regulations and building codes, a number of innovative, accessible products have emerged to make compliance simpler and more stylish.

Here are just a few examples of accessible products that we have been recommending recently…

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It’s all in the Details: Designing for Passive House & Accessibility Compliance

The number of multifamily residential projects targeting Passive House certification has been rising steadily over the past several years, bringing along many exciting challenges. This has been especially prevalent in New York City, where increasingly stringent energy standards and a desire for innovation have made designing to Passive House standards an attractive goal. As the number of these projects passing through our office continues to grow, we have discovered some important overlaps with one of our other consulting services – Accessibility Compliance.

In the United States, multifamily new construction projects consisting of four or more dwelling units are subject to the Fair Housing Act, as well as state, city, and local accessibility laws and codes. For the purposes of this blog we will focus on projects in NYC, although the majority of newly constructed residential projects across the country will be subject to some variation of the criteria discussed below, for both Passive House and Accessibility standards. With this in mind, we have chosen a couple of common problem areas that require particularly close attention. (more…)

Shifting Perspectives: Experiencing Accessibility Challenges

Katie negotiating a curb ramp and crosswalk with the aid of a cane while wearing vision-altering goggles.

Written by Katie Chevalier, Accessibility Specialist

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a training session entitled “Shifting Your Perspective: Experience and Plan for Accessibility Challenges,” which was hosted by the Dutchess County Planning Federation. The course syllabus was broken down into two components: experiential and site planning. The goal of the experiential portion of the course was to provide attendees with a variety of simulated sensory and ambulatory challenges and have them navigate the built environment. While the course was primarily geared toward local municipal planning boards, there were valuable lessons to take with me, both in my role as an Accessibility Specialist and as a county resident interested in learning first-hand the challenges that people with disabilities face every day.

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Medellin: A New Approach to Access and Inclusion

Written by Camilo Vasquez, Accessibility Specialist

A view of the comunas in Medellin, Colombia

There are cities around the world with the potential to conjure up negative images the moment you mention the name. My hometown of Medellin, Colombia is certainly one of those cities. It is no secret that Medellin is synonymous with Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who paralyzed Colombia with constant violence and chaos over two decades ago. In 1988, TIME magazine named it the most dangerous city in the world. By 1991, it became the murder capital of the world. Yet in 2013, Medellin was announced the “Innovative City of the Year” by USA’s Urban Land Institute. How did Medellin go from a haven of narco-terrorism to becoming a hub of innovation? This transformation has been attributed to the use of urban infrastructure as a tool for inclusion, which was very apparent during my recent trip.

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Accessible Products of the Future…are Here!

 

The GR-5: Winning Prototype from Marymount University’s 2017 Strong by Design-athon.

Every April during National Fair Housing Month, those of us on SWA’s Accessibility Team like to partake in activities that remind us why accessible design is so important – both in housing and otherwise. This year, I had the exciting opportunity to be part of a guest jury for a design competition with Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth annual Strong by Design-athon is a project exhibition that aims to raise awareness about the needs of veterans with disabilities and inspire the design, technology, and healthcare communities to embrace Universal Design.
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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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60 Minutes on ‘Drive-by’ ADA Lawsuits: On Point or Missed Opportunity?

60 Minutes recently aired a story on what it referred to as “drive-by lawsuits” filed against businesses for failing to comply with the design and constructioninsiders-guide-ada-image requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The piece showcased stories of people who essentially “drive” around on the hunt to find ADA violations, including ramps that are look like they’re steeper than what’s permitted by the ADA, parking spaces that are not designated by required signs, missing pool lifts, etc. Before you know it, the attorney files a case against a business for design and construction violations of the ADA. What results? The establishment that is sued typically settles out of court and has to fork over thousands in court fees, which are theoretically divvyed up by the attorney and the plaintiff all in an effort to make money. Can this be possible? Yes, it can – and these “drive by” lawsuits happen all the time. So, in this instance, the 60 Minutes story was on point – people take advantage of “the system” for personal gain all of the time and in many different ways.

Here’s the missed opportunity – the 60 Minutes piece did nothing to highlight the incredible opportunities that have been opened up to people with disabilities as a result of the passing of the ADA. The story failed to mention that there are an estimated 53 million Americans with disabilities who, as a result of the ADA, now have the ability to work, shop, live, and play on the same terms as everyone else. The ADA leveled out the playing field and provides equal access to the built environment – equality; isn’t that what we’re all about?

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Wayfinding: An Interview with Katie Osborn

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective; expert wayfinding strategist

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective and expert wayfinding strategist, took some time out of her busy schedule to connect with SWA’s Victoria Lanteigne on the importance of wayfinding and to debunk the myth that wayfinding is just signage!

Victoria Lanteigne (VL): Can you define wayfinding?

Katie Osborn (KO): At a basic level, wayfinding is utilizing tools and cues to help people navigate seamlessly from point A to point B. However, wayfinding strategies are complex and can include signage, maps, architectural features, lighting, floor patterns, customer service representatives, digital apps, and more. Proper wayfinding will enhance a visitor’s experience based on the sense of ease with which they can access all points, elements, and features of a space.

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The Reasons Behind the Requirements

Written by Theresa D’Andrea, Accessibility Specialist

This month, several members of the Accessibility Team had the unique opportunity to experience navigating architectural barriers commonly faced by people who use wheelchairs. We attended a seminar held in New Jersey that involved actually getting into a wheelchair and going through a series of obstacles to experience just how challenging it is to navigate environments that do not meet (or just barely meet) the minimum standards of accessibility compliance. The experience of using a wheelchair to negotiate common obstacles brought to light the rationale behind accessible design and construction requirements that we deal with on a daily basis.
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Accessible Design: Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them: Part Two

Part 2: Dwelling Units

As promised, we’re back with Part 2 of the most common mistakes that our accessibility group encounters when assessing for compliance with regulatory requirements for accessible design and construction. This time, we’ll focus on frequent problems that we have encountered within dwelling units. Remember, in order to save time and money on costly remediation once construction begins – and reduce the risk of exposure to future litigation – it is best to tackle these issues early in the design phase.

Here are just a few of the violations frequently identified by our inspectors:

1.  Doors: Clear Width

Clear width is measured between the face of the door and the opposing stop, when the door is open 90 degrees.

Clear width is measured between the face of the door and the opposing stop, when the door is open 90 degrees.

Every door within a dwelling unit that is intended for user passage must provide the necessary clear opening to  provide access to a person with a wheelchair, or other mobility aid. The minimum clear width requirement varies (32 inches nominal or 32 inches minimum), so it is important to consult federal, state, and local codes to ensure that the specified doors will comply. This requirement applies to all doors within the unit – it does not matter whether there are multiple doors providing access to a particular room.

Specifying user passage doors that are 3’-0” or 2’-11”, including doors to closets deeper than 24 inches, will help to ensure that a compliant clear width is achieved.

2.  Kitchen Clearance

Projecting appliances often encroach into the required clearance in dwelling unit kitchens.

Projecting appliances often encroach into the required clearance in dwelling unit kitchens.

The minimum clearance between opposing elements in a kitchen depends on whether the kitchen is a galley kitchen (40 inches) or a U-shaped kitchen (60 inches). Clearance is measured between the furthest projecting element of opposing countertops, appliances (excluding handles), and base cabinets.

Often, the range and refrigerator are not aligned with the edge of the countertop, as commonly drawn on plans. These appliances frequently project beyond the edge of the countertop and often compromise the required minimum clearance. If larger appliances are selected (or substituted) after kitchen layouts have been designed, it is important that the layouts are reassessed with the updated appliance dimensions to ensure that clearances are maintained.

3. Outlets, Switches, and Environmental Controls

Switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other controls intended to be used by the resident must be located within accessible reach range. Noncompliance often occurs when reaching over an obstruction to access the controls is required (e.g., kitchen countertops). Often, electrical subcontractors install light switches and outlets at a consistent height, which while compliant for an outlet mounted on a wall in the middle of the room, will not necessarily work for an outlet mounted over a counter. We highly recommend installing all switches, outlets, and other controls no more than 44 inches above the finished floor, measured to the top of the electrical box.

Dimensioning to the top of the electrical box for outlets mounted high on the wall and the bottom of the electrical box for outlets mounted low on the wall will ensure that all operable parts are fully mounted within accessible reach range.

It is never too soon to think about accessible design requirements. The earlier these common problem areas are taken into consideration, the easier it will be to ensure compliance with accessibility laws and regulations once the construction phase of the project begins. By planning ahead, it is possible to address the most widespread issues in the design phase, significantly reducing the amount of delays in the field. A little effort now could eliminate a lot of headaches later.

Accessible Design: Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them: Part One

Part 1: Public and Common-use Areas

After years of inspecting multifamily housing developments across the country for compliance with regulatory requirements for accessible design and construction, our accessibility group has compiled a list of common violations – violations that could easily have been avoided before construction even began. By addressing requirements for accessibility in the early phases of a project, designers can preempt the need for costly remediation during construction and greatly reduce the possibility of potential litigation.

Here are just a couple of examples of common violations that we come across on a regular basis:

  1. Slopes of Accessible Routes
    At least one accessible route is required to connect site arrival points, accessible building entrances, various site and building amenities, and dwelling units in the project. All too often, we arrive on site to find that the slopes of these accessible routes are not compliant (sometimes more than twice what is allowed), necessitating the ripping up of sidewalks and flooring materials – an undertaking that can quickly become expensive. When considering an accessible route, there are two important slopes to keep in mind: cross slope and running slope.

    — Cross slopes of accessible routes must be no more than 1:48 (2%). Areas where two accessible routes intersect, as well as the clearance at doors, must not exceed 2% when measured in any direction.
    — Running slopes of accessible routes must be no more than 1:20 (5%). If the running slope of an accessible route exceeds 5%, it is then considered a ramp and all ramp criteria apply, including the requirement for handrails on both sides of the ramp.

    By identifying the required accessible routes on the drawings, and providing notes and slope indicators along these routes rather than spot elevations, it is possible to greatly increase the chances of compliance once the concrete is poured and the building is constructed.

  2. Protruding Objects
    Sconces are common examples of protruding objects.

    Sconces are common examples of protruding objects.

    Accessible design isn’t just about ensuring equality for those with mobility impairments. Another important, and often missed requirement, applies to those with visual impairments. A protruding object can be something as basic as a wall sconce, bar countertop, or drinking fountain; and as seemingly innocuous as a piece of artwork on the wall. Any element that is located 27-80 inches AFF and projects more than 4 inches from a wall can prove hazardous to someone who does not have the ability to see it. The projecting objects themselves may seem small, but the cost of replacing hundreds of lighting fixtures throughout a building can be astronomical.

    While the best method of avoiding protruding objects is to specify wall-mounted sconces and other fixtures with a low profile, there will of course be situations that require other solutions. Where a protruding object exists, a cane-detectable barrier must be provided below it to ensure that a person with a visual impairment will be able to identify and avoid the potentially hazardous object. This can be as simple as positioning a planter or built-in piece of furniture below a wall sconce or piece of artwork, or installing a foot rail or knee wall below projecting bar countertops. Locating drinking fountains within alcoves is another method of achieving compliance.

By addressing these common violations in the design phase of a project, it is possible to greatly reduce the need for change orders and costly delays once construction begins. A little planning ahead can save a lot of time and money in the long run.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Dwelling Units – coming soon!